You are herecontent / Triangle Ed-Op Interviews: Congressman Curt Weldon

Triangle Ed-Op Interviews: Congressman Curt Weldon


Triangle Ed-Op Interviews: Congressman Curt Weldon
By James Mack, Jr.
Published: Friday, September 30, 2005
Article Tools: Page 2 of 6

So, what I've had to do is to fight with both of them, both the 9-11 Commission and the [Bush] administration, who I think neither of whom wants this information to be put out to the American people. Now, what bothers me is that the bulk of the information in Able Danger acquired was open-source information; it wasn't classified. To deny these military officers, who are very dedicated, loyal Americans, to tell their story not only flies in the face of everything this country stands for, but it is also a personal attack against them. It also flies in the face of the legitimate role of Congress in oversight of the executive branch. So as Senator Glassly said yesterday, this is a lot of bigger than Curt Weldon or Able Danger: It's about Congress exercising its legitimate roll in oversight.

T: That brings up another interesting point. Do you believe that actions of the Pentagon and the Bush administration might have a negative impact on future independent commissions? Do you think Americans will look more warily on commissions like the 9-11 Commission?

CW: Yes, this whole process has soured me on the process of commissions. The 9-11 Commission, which I supported with my vote and which I supported verbally, was basically empowered by the Congress and the American people, with 80 full-time staff people and $15 million dollars to fully and completely investigate what happened before 9-11. This whole story indicates they didn't do that.

In addition, the Pentagon, when people asked them for information that's open source, has no right, in my mind, to basically prevent that information or those people from talking. If this were a case where they might jeopardize our national security, I'd be the first to say, "Wait a minute. We'd better think through this." Or I would say, "Let's do the hearings in a closed session." The Pentagon didn't do either. They didn't want a closed session. They just said, "We are stopping these people from testifying." Now, [Sen.] Arlen Specter [R-Pa.] said publicly that he was not happy with this, and as you might have noticed, he didn't adjourn the hearing. He continued the hearing, which leads me to believe we're going to have additional hearings in the Senate.

So, what I've had to do is to fight with both of them, both the 9-11 Commission and the [Bush] administration, who I think neither of whom wants this information to be put out to the American people. Now, what bothers me is that the bulk of the information in Able Danger acquired was open-source information; it wasn't classified. To deny these military officers, who are very dedicated, loyal Americans, to tell their story not only flies in the face of everything this country stands for, but it is also a personal attack against them. It also flies in the face of the legitimate role of Congress in oversight of the executive branch. So as Senator Glassly said yesterday, this is a lot of bigger than Curt Weldon or Able Danger: It's about Congress exercising its legitimate roll in oversight.

T: That brings up another interesting point. Do you believe that actions of the Pentagon and the Bush administration might have a negative impact on future independent commissions? Do you think Americans will look more warily on commissions like the 9-11 Commission?

CW: Yes, this whole process has soured me on the process of commissions. The 9-11 Commission, which I supported with my vote and which I supported verbally, was basically empowered by the Congress and the American people, with 80 full-time staff people and $15 million dollars to fully and completely investigate what happened before 9-11. This whole story indicates they didn't do that.

In addition, the Pentagon, when people asked them for information that's open source, has no right, in my mind, to basically prevent that information or those people from talking. If this were a case where they might jeopardize our national security, I'd be the first to say, "Wait a minute. We'd better think through this." Or I would say, "Let's do the hearings in a closed session." The Pentagon didn't do either. They didn't want a closed session. They just said, "We are stopping these people from testifying." Now, [Sen.] Arlen Specter [R-Pa.] said publicly that he was not happy with this, and as you might have noticed, he didn't adjourn the hearing. He continued the hearing, which leads me to believe we're going to have additional hearings in the Senate.
I can tell you I talked to [Rep.] Jim Sensenbrenner [R-Wis.], the chairman of the judiciary committee in the House of Representatives, and I think you're going to see a congressional hearing in the House as well for one or more committees. This cannot stand. It's too important, because it was the largest attack in the history of the country and 3,000 innocent people died. No one has the right to shut down people from talking because they're fearful that might be embarrassed, and that's what I think is at play here. I think it's over-embarrassment, not national security.

T: Well, that also brings up a good point about the military. Recently, we've seen the military take on a different social role in civilian life, especially with the hurricanes. It seems as if the National Guard and the reserve units are no longer what they were, say, 30 or 40 years ago. Today, they are more active duty than they were before. Do you think this is correct, or something else?

CW: Well, what's happened with our military was caused by a continual decrease in the number of personnel serving, starting in the early 1990s and continuing through the early 2000s. We cut back the size, or what we call the "end-strength" of the military dramatically in the '90s.

We eliminated whole tactical units, fighter planes ... we cut back our navy in the '90s from 585 ships to where it is today, which is about 230 ships. When you cut back the military to that extent and you increase the rate of their deployment, there's a misfit there. So back in 1998 under President Clinton, we went to something called the "total force" concept. The total force concept said we're going to rely on the guard and reserve for every one of our missions, and now they're going to play a role, both in combat and in other requirements, where our military was typically called upon in the past.

So this wasn't an accident; this was a deliberate effort started in the mid to late 1990s because we made decisions both in the White House, the Pentagon, and the Congress supported them to basically decrease the size of our military and therefore increase the dependence on the guard and reserve units.

So the only way you can decrease the use of guard and reserve units is to cut back on the number of deployments around the world, which I have supported in the past, or increase the size of the military, which we've done slightly in this year's defense budget.

But that's why we have this use of guard and reservists. It's now about 30 percent of our troops when they're deployed. It is because we have no other choice. When you cut back the military the way that we've cut them back, then you have to get those men and women from reserve status and National Guard status to use them in this total force concept.

T: Do you believe that the doctrine of Posse Comitatus is something that will be constantly evolving, especially after what happened with the natural disasters. Or do you think that with the naysayers already out there saying that Posse Comitatus is a principle doctrine that should not be changed in any way, the last thing the American public wants is to see military policing the citizenry?

CW: I think that'll be a subject for national debate and discussion, and that began yesterday with the hearing with Senator Specter. I am one who is very leery of having our military involved with domestic involvement. However, that doesn't mean you won't see the military continue to play the kind of role with the National Guard has played for decades, which is to assist towns and communities in cleaning up. The more you get into a difficult situation is in an area we've just saw in New Orleans, and I was there three days after the hurricane struck. I was the first elected official going to New Orleans, where you had total anarchy and total chaos, and you had basically no effective police department. The question the American people are going to have to answer is, "What is a total breakdown in law enforcement?" and there you've basically decimated your local police. Then, is it acceptable, either under marshal law or under some other status, to have the military provide that security. And that's an issue that has not yet been decided, and again, will be the subject of additional hearings and discussion and is really a part of what was talked about yesterday at the hearing of the Judiciary Committee.
T: Do you see the direction of global security as something that's truly changed after 9-11, from the old law enforcement model on terrorism to the new war on terrorism? Do you believe that the government really has changed its modality to fighting terrorism, and if so, do you think it's been a good change?

CW: Well, we clearly weren't prepared for 9-11, and it was very frustrating to me, because in 1999 and 2000 I consistently fought the CIA on the reluctance to deal with the intelligence overhaul and reforms that we needed, many of which are in place today despite CIA objection. In the war against terrorism, intelligence oversees intelligence, and the ability to understand emerging threats is the number one priority.

You've got to take out the terrorist plans before they occur and before they hit our soil. We've made improvements there, and we have shifted resources into that area. But it's going to require a continuing transformation of our military to be able to make a response to a different kind of threat. We're not dealing with the threats of the Cold War, where you have the potential of a major superpower to strike us with an all-out nuclear attack. The threat today is the use of asymmetric threats - the suitcase bomb, the biological or chemical weapon, the dirty bomb - the use of terrorist activities as we've seen. To deal with those kind of threats, the military has got to transform itself, which we're beginning to go through right now. In fact, as the Drexel newspaper, I would encourage your readers to sign up for my class I usually teach twice a year on international security issues. We go through a lot of this stuff, and in the end we let students get involved in the same discussions and decisions that I have to make as a member of Congress in both of these areas. So a transformation is necessary, the threats are changing, and the parameters of our security are changing.

No longer can a 20th century military respond to 21st century threats and challenges. That requires the military to understand that change is necessary - especially necessary - as we face the fact that we don't have the resources that we would like to have to get the military all of the equipment they need and still take care of the quality of life that allows us to have an all volunteer force.

The largest portion of our defense budget today, unlike past years when we used to have a draft, is basically for the education, the healthcare, the housing, the family, and the quality of life for the troops to keep people volunteering.

That's going to continue to be the top priority, but in having the largest amount of money to spend on the troops and their morale, then you don't have as much money to spend on big weapons systems, ships, tanks, and big airplanes, and there you got to do things differently. That's a major debate and discussion that's going on right now as we do what's called the "quadrennial defense review," which is a planning effort over four years to look at where the military needs to be four and eight and ten years from now.

T: Do you believe that there are actually those in Congress that may still be using that law enforcement model to fight terrorism?

CW: Domestically, it is a major law enforcement problem, but because the terrorist cells are largely based overseas, it is in the forefront an intelligence issue to be able to get massive amounts of data and use that to basically pull together trends and patterns of overseas operations and people, not U.S. citizens, but people overseas, that basically result in a terrorist attack or action against our people here at home. We're doing that with the Terrorism Threat Integration Center, which is now called the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC).

My frustration is I first proposed that capability in 1999. In fact, on November 4th, 1999, I had briefing in my office on Iran with the FBI, the CIA, and Defense Department to create what we have today, and the CIA said, "Thank you, Congressman, but we don't need that capability."

So, the biggest challenge I face is dealing with bureaucracies that think they're not answerable to anyone. I'm talking about the CIA; I'm talking about aspects of the Defense Department and the need for members of Congress to be more aggressive in oversight. That's why I wrote the book that I wrote this year.

It's not often that a member of Congress publicly takes on the CIA, but I thought I had no other choice. The agency wasn't being responsive. They had, in my opinion, a terrible track record. Therefore, it was my job to ask the tough questions and shake them up.

It's achieved the result I wanted, and in the end, continuing to play an aggressive role will help us, I think, be able to meet the threats we expect to see in this century.
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Actually how many trained military do we have world wide? Recently
l8,000 troups were transferred from Germany to Romania -- how many other troops are at the 1000s other bases we have around the world? What
shortage is there really?

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